What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

After being involved in or witnessing a traumatic event, it is common to feel upset, distressed or lost afterwards. At first, an individual may feel emotionally numb for a period of time. Later, emotional and physical reactions such as flashbacks, nightmares, feeling upset easily, severe anxiety, and loss of control may arise.

 

Individuals who have experienced traumatic events may have difficulty adjusting and coping for a period of time. For some, these symptoms last for a short period of time; individuals whose symptoms persist for more than a month, or are extremely severe, may suffer from PTSD.

 

There is no specific time limit to distress on the traumatic events, and some individuals develop symptoms many years after the traumatic event. Furthermore, not all individuals who experiences a traumatic event will develop PTSD.

 

What are the symptoms of PTSD?

The symptoms of PTSD may vary from person to person. Some symptoms may include:

Reliving the event:

  • Flashbacks (feeling that the event is happening again)

  • Intrusive thoughts and images

  • Nightmares

  • Intense distress or symbolic reminders of the trauma

  • Physical sensations, such as pain, sweating, nausea or trembling

 

Negative thoughts and feelings about yourself, others, or the world

  • Despair about the future

  • Poor memory, including not remembering important aspects of the traumatic event

  • Difficulty maintaining intimacy

  • Feeling detached from family and friends

  • Lack of interest in activities you used to enjoy

  • Difficulty experiencing positive emotions

  • Feeling emotionally numb

 

Alertness or feeling on edge:

  • Panicking when reminded of the trauma

  • Being easily upset or angry

  • Hypervigilant 

  • A lack of or disturbed sleep

  • Irritability and aggressive behaviour

  • Lack of concentration

  • Being easily startled

  • Self-destructive behaviour

 

Avoiding feelings or memories:

  • Keeping busy

  • Avoiding situations that remind you of the trauma

  • Repressing memories (unable to remember details of the event)

  • Feeling detached, cut off and emotionally numb

  • Being unable to express affection

  • Alcohol or drug use

 

What causes PTSD?

Many different factors may cause PTSD, for example:

  • Being involved in serious accidents (such as a motor vehicle accident)

  • Sexual assault

  • Abuse, harassment or bullying (including racism, sexism or other types of abuse)

  • Kidnapping, being taken hostage or any event in which you fear for your life

  • Experiencing violence (including military combat, a terrorist attack)

  • Witnessing other people being hurt or killed

  • Surviving a natural disaster (such as flooding, earthquakes or pandemics)

  • Experiencing traumatic childbirth as a mother (or partner witnessing a traumatic birth)

 

The following factors may also make you more vulnerable to developing PTSD after experiencing a traumatic event:

  • Experiencing repeated trauma

  • Getting physically hurt or feeling pain

  • Receiving little or no support from friends, family or professionals

  • Dealing with multiple stressors at the same time

  • Previously experiencing anxiety or depression

  • Working in a high-risk occupation, such as the police or military

  • Suffering from childhood abuse

 

What treatments are available for PTSD?

The main treatment for PTSD is psychotherapy, but it can also include medication. These treatments can help improve symptoms by:

 

  • Teaching skills to cope with negative symptoms

  • Creating a better mindset about yourself, others and the world

  • Learning how to manage with recurring symptoms

  • Treating other problems related to the traumatic experience, such as depression, anxiety, or alcohol or drug abuse

 

Mild PTSD symptoms that persist for less than four weeks should be monitored to determine whether they are worsening or improving. If your GP wishes to follow up on your medical condition, an appointment for a follow-up should be made promptly.

 

Psychotherapy

Several types of psychotherapy are used in PTSD treatment, and they include:

 

Cognitive Behavioral therapy (CBT)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a type of talk therapy that helps change negative cognitive patterns -- such as changing negative thoughts into positive ones. Individuals who have experienced trauma may continue to experience negative emotions, and certain things may trigger these emotions.

 

Cognitive-behavioral therapy can help with the recognition of these negative emotions. Suitable coping mechanisms can then be introduced for certain emotions or events. Some events that are commonly avoided include taking public transportation or driving. This form of therapy can also help with other symptoms that arise concurrently with PTSD.

 

Exposure therapy

This behavioral therapy helps an individual safely face situations and memories that cause fear, thereby enabling effective means for managing treatment options. Exposure therapy is especially helpful for flashbacks and nightmares. Virtual reality (VR) programs allow to an individual to “revisit” an environment or event in a safe and controlled manner.

 

Eye Movement Desensitization (EMDR)

Eye Movement Desensitization combines exposure therapy with a series of guided eye movements to help an individual process traumatic memories and change the default response(s) to them.

 

A therapist can help develop stress management strategies that assist with the handling of stressful situations. All of these methods can help with managing fears after a traumatic event. A mental health professional can discuss which therapy or combination of therapies best meets an individual’s needs.

 

Medication

Medication is usually not the first choice of treatment for PTSD. However, antidepressants may be part of one’s treatment if an individual:

  • experiences clinical depression

  • has trouble falling asleep

  • is not open to trying psychotherapy

 

Other treatments

In addition to the three treatments mentioned above, other treatments include:

  • Group therapy: In addition to individual therapy, group therapy is also an option. Group therapy can provide a way to connect with others who are going through similar experiences by sharing individuals’ traumatic experience(s). These group sessions help provide a better understanding of the events that contribute to PTSD and to teach individuals how to manage symptoms.

  • Psychodynamic Therapy: This form of therapy focuses on managing distressing/strong emotions and learning if the past has an influence on present-day experiences and emotions.

 

Manage and mitigate the effects of PTSD

  1. Understand PTSD — Understanding PTSD provides knowledge on developing strategies and effective coping mechanisms when feeling certain emotions.
  2. Time — Coping mechanisms and the time needed to adjust to vary from person to person. Talking about an event too soon may not be helpful; an individual could relive the traumatic events and experience flashbacks or nightmares. Give the person some time to share experiences with others.
  3. Talk to someone — When ready, an individual can share feelings with others. Some options include reaching out to friends, relatives, colleagues or seeking professional help
  4. Mindfulness — Mindfulness allows us to be more aware of the things around us and understand ourselves better. Practicing mindfulness through meditation, tai chi, or yoga can help with the management of anxiety and stress.
  5. Consult a family doctor — A General Practitioner can discuss and explain different treatment options. Before starting treatment for PTSD, the family doctor or psychiatrist will do an assessment and create a personal treatment plan.
  6. Follow a treatment plan — It may take some time to experience the benefits from a treatment plan or medical prescription. Treatment is effective and most people recover; it is important to remember that some individuals may need different amounts of time to heal. Following a treatment plan and communicating regularly with a mental health professional is the best way to move forward.

 

Please consult a doctor or seek professional help if a traumatic event has affected you.

 

How can family and friends help?

An individual who suffers from PTSD may act differently than prior to the traumatic event through sudden increased irritability, or depression, or withdrawal; this change can severely affect the mental health of loved ones and friends.

 

Loved ones and friends may feel guilty for not being able to treat or speed up the recovery process. However, there are ways to support a person with PTSD.

 

Understand PTSD

Understanding PTSD provides knowledge and insight on the coping mechanisms and strategies that are commonly associated with PTSD. For example, avoidance is one of the symptoms of PTSD. Give plenty of time and space when help is refused – let the individual know that there is help when needed.

 

Provide support

With knowledge and consent, help make appointments for treatment.

 

Listen

Be ready to lend an ear but understand if the individual does not want to talk. Avoid talking about the trauma until the time is right.

 

Put your health first

Helping others can be stressful. Self-care such as eating healthily, physical activity, and resting well is important. Or, take some time alone or with friends and do activities that will help recharge your energy.

 

Seek help

Seek help if needed. Consult a medical professional if is difficult to cope with a loved one suffering from PTSD — a therapist can help.

 

Psychological Problems Associated with PTSD

  • Excessive anxiety

  • Phobia

  • Depression

  • Suicidal thoughts


Learn more about PTSD

 

Videos that help explain PTSD:

 

PTSD and relevant information:

 

Resources:

 

Crisis Line:

 

References: